Which Girl Would You Marry?
How Christians Think About Disability
By Mark Buchanan
Irecently preached at a large church in Toronto. My text – John 5, where Jesus leaves a church banquet (a temple feast to be perfectly accurate) and travels to the rough part of town. He goes to the pool of Bethesda. “Here,” John says, “a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.” What unnerved me, long before I got up to preach, were
Doug and Darlene. They’re a married couple in their 40s. Doug
is an accomplished poet. Darlene can’t stop smiling. Both are
in powered wheelchairs. As the music played they wove and
veered in the space between the platform and the pews, carving exquisite arabesques of choreography in their wheelchairs.
They were dancing before the Lord, like David leaping before
the ark, like Miriam twirling and shaking her tambourine at the
edge of the sea. Doug and Darlene offered their bodies as living
sacrifices to God, holy and pleasing. My heart, not just my lips,
sang at the sight.
That half hour was the purest act of worship I’ve ever seen.
So when I stood up to preach and asked the question Jesus
asks the invalid in John 5, “Do you want to get well?” (“Are
you willing to be whole?” is closer to the Greek), I was already
troubled by deeper questions. What is wellness? What does
wholeness look like?
But God hadn’t finished His lesson with me yet.
In the church’s basement, between the services, I joined a
class of adults with various disabilities.
There was (and here I change the names) Billy, with Down
Syndrome, who is funny and charming and deeply tender.
There was Roger, who knew all the answers to every question,
but whose tongue twists back on itself so his speech garbles,
though several people understood him clear enough.
And there was Teddy, sweet and shy as a little child, and
has earned three degrees – in law, Hebrew and biblical studies.
I went back upstairs, back to the “temple,” to preach a second
One of the mysteries of that story in John 5 is there are many
people at the pool with disabilities, yet Jesus chose only one man,
and a reluctant one at that, to heal. In the first service I wondered
out loud about this, and offered a few thoughts. In the second
service I wondered out loud about it again, but this time said, “I
just spent time in your church basement with about 15 people
with disabilities. I was in the presence of a deeper wholeness than